Republicans Largely Out of Step With The Rest Of America On ‘Religious Freedom’ Laws
A new poll from CNN and Opinion Research shows that the majority of Americans do not think businesses should be free to refuse to provide services to same-sex weddings based on religious beliefs:
Nearly 6 in 10 Americans say that businesses that provide wedding-related services should be required to provide those services to same-sex couples in the same way they would all other customers, even if they have religious objections.
A new CNN/ORC poll finds 57% feel businesses such as caterers or florists should be required to serve gay or lesbian couples just as they would heterosexual couples, while 41% say they should be allowed to refuse service for religious reasons. That’s a shift from a Pew Research Center poll conducted last fall, which found just 49% thought businesses ought to be required to serve same-sex couples while 47% that they should be allowed to refuse service on religious grounds.
Since the Pew poll last fall, Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed into law in late March by Republican governor Mike Pence, sparked a nationwide controversy over whether the law allowed wedding-related businesses to refuse service to gay and lesbian couples. Apple, Walmart and the NCAA all spoke out against the law, while some states and cities with Democratic leaders barred spending public money in Indiana. Pence and other Indiana legislators insisted discrimination was not the law’s intent and a bill to change the original law was signed in early April.
As with polling questions about same-sex marriage itself, the demographic breakdown shows that self-identified Republicans and older Americans are the only groups that believe business should have a right to discriminate:
Most Democrats (70%) and independents (60%) say wedding-related businesses should be required to provide services to same-sex couples as they would different-sex couples, while Republicans break broadly the other way, 67% say religious reasons are a valid justification for refusing service.
Looking at Republicans and independents who lean toward the Republican Party, 60% in that group say wedding-related businesses should be allowed to refuse services to same-sex couples, but there are sharp divides within that group by age and ideology. Moderate and liberal Republicans and Republican-leaners broadly say wedding-related businesses should be required to serve all couples the same way (58%) while three-quarters of conservative Republicans favor allowing a caterer or florist to refuse service for religious reasons (74%). Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents under age 50, 56% say wedding-related businesses should be required to serve same-sex and different-sex couples the same way while among those age 50 or older, 72% think they should not be required to do so.
Age differences hold across party lines, but the generation gap among Republicans and Republican-leaners is larger than that among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents.
Overall, white evangelicals are broadly in favor of allowing businesses to refuse service for religious reasons – 62% say they should be able to. But among whites who are not evangelicals, 61% say such businesses should be required to provide services to all couples the same way.
The shift from the Pew Center results comes across demographic lines. Men, women, whites, younger adults and senior citizens all are more apt than in the Pew poll to say wedding-related business should be required to serve same-sex couples as they do others.
These numbers are consistent with both a Reuters/Ipsos poll released earlier this month, and a YouGov poll that was released at about that same time. While the CNN poll does not seem to have done so, those polls also asked respondents about their support for the type of religious freedom bill that caused so much political controversy in Indiana last month. In both cases, respondents opposed these so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Acts in roughly the same numbers that they opposed the right of business to discriminate against same sex marriage. As the quoted article notes, this appears to be a change from the results seen in previous polling on this question done before the issue had really entered the public consciousness. The most recent of those polls came from the Associated Press, and it showed that a majority of respondents believed that businesses with religious objections should be free to refuse services for a same-sex wedding. Before that, a Pew Research Center poll found the public almost evenly divided on the issue, however, and an ABC News/Washington Post poll found that less than 30% of respondents supported the idea of religious exemptions for businesses in these situations. As I said at the time the Reuters and YouGov polls wer released, it’s likely that the differences we are seeing in recent polling as compared to the earlier polls can be explained largely by the fact that the issue has been in the public consciousness much more than in the past. Additionally, it’s likely that the fact that support for same-sex marriage continues to rise is impacting public opinion on this issue as well.
Much like the same-sex marriage issue itself, public opinion on this issue presents Republican politicians with a dilemma. Inside the party, opposition to same-sex marriage and support for RFRA-type laws is quite high. This means that candidates must at the very least express in public the opinions held by the people whose votes they are seeking. Some of them, such as Ted Cruz and Steve King, will be tempted to go beyond mere public support for the base’s position and venture into proposing legislation that has no chance of passing. Once they get their party’s nomination, though, these same Republicans have to face an electorate that completely disagrees with their party on these issues and, while it’s unlikely that same-sex marriage and discrimination laws will be the primary issue motivating a large bloc of voters in the election, it is still something that could have a significant impact on the election. As we’ve seen, the GOP already has a negative reputation among younger and suburban voters due in no small part to the stances it is forced to take an social issues due to the influence of the socially conservative base. Even if those issues aren’t the primary factor deciding their vote, the fact that they tend to turn those voters off to the GOP makes it that much harder for Republican candidates to get through to these voters on other issues such as the economy, jobs, and government accountability. That’s going to continue to be a problem for the GOP as long as a majority of its members continue to hold positions that are wildly out of step with the American public, of course, so simply saying that the party “needs to change” kind of misses the point. The GOP is the way it is on these issues because of who its supporters are. Until that changes, or those people either change their opinions or lose their influence inside the party, it’s unlikely the Republican Party as a whole will change its positions on social issues significantly.